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The Pain of the PlayStation Portal
Sony's PlayStation Portal looks like an underwhelming venture into handhelds, only able to function as an extra screen for a PS5.
Recently, Sony released more information about their upcoming handheld device, the PlayStation Portal – a device that looks like a small tablet tucked between two halves of a PlayStation 5 controller. This is because it is designed for one singular purpose in mind, playing Playstation 5 games remotely. It cannot play anything on its own. Ultimately, however, this is just a painful reminder of how they abandoned the legacy of another “PSP,” the PlayStation Portable.
Handheld gaming is an admittedly tough market, one in which only Nintendo has managed to thrive for quite some time. The arrival of smartphones undermined the industry considerably, as people suddenly had a device capable of engrossing games already – even if painfully many of them are microtransaction hells, designed to suck as much money as possible out of you.
When the PlayStation Portable came out in 2004, the iPhone was still just a twinkle in Steve Jobs’s eye. Smartphones, though an instant success, also took some years more to fully permeate the culture. Though experiments like UMD films were a bit of a flop, overall, the console was able to thrive, and it offered a surprisingly rich multimedia experience for the time.
However, when what was essentially the “PSP2,” the Playstation Vita, was released in late 2011, the damage was done. People already had a screen in their pocket that could play games and other media on the go. The features that set it apart from Nintendo now were less relevant in the market. Game companies began chasing the easy cash of mobile microtransactions. The library, while it had several gems, was small, and consisted of a lot of remakes and re-releases.
However, since then, Nintendo has pioneered a highly successful approach to mobile gaming in the form of the Switch. Rather than take a console-first approach, in the case of the upcoming PlayStation Portal, they instead took a handheld-first approach, where the device can easily be used on a bigger screen. The PlayStation Portal’s approach is more reminiscent of the Wii U, which was a commercial failure.
There are already Remote Play apps that enable playing PlayStation 5 apps on other devices, once again, making this redundant to what the market demands. Remote Play also can be flaky and laggy compared to playing something natively, which means a high-risk players will have a degraded experience no matter how they play on the device. Instead, Sony should have taken the approach of crafting a proper successor to the Vita that tries to offer their own spin on what defined the Switch.
Ultimately, this just seems like another handheld blunder on Sony’s part. In the process of trying to take an entirely different approach to handheld gaming, they overlooked how they could instead adapt the past to match successful competitors. We should have had a PlayStation equivalent of a Switch that, while obviously not as powerful as a PlayStation 5, could offer a compelling experience that could easily be hooked up to a larger screen.
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